Account of My Last Trip to Europe

I got into publishing in the ‘60s when I was building domes and people started writing me from all over the USA, asking for the math.

I started responding, then realized I was writing the same letter over and over. Why not print up something? Would save me from repeating myself.

A little later I got hired by Stewart Brand to edit the Shelter part of The Whole Earth Catalog and the printouts turned into book making, and here I am 50+ years later, still writing stuff so I don’t have to repeat myself. A lot of it is “Hey, look what I’ve found out in the world.”

Here’s an account of my last couple of weeks in Europe. PLUS I, ahem, got to the airport 5 hours early and have time on my hands.

Life In Venice (and Switzerland and Florence)

The first 8 days of my trip were fantastic and well-documented on my blog snd Instagram accounts:

Then came the rest of my trip:

Driving in Italy

It was just about the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. After a dream of a trip, with my extraordinary hosts, Lukas and Leopold, I ended up in Florence via train and loved the charming city.

Then I rented a car, a Fiat Panda hybrid — fine little economical car, and headed for Sicily. Italian drivers—man! They drive super fast, and tailgate constantly. You’ll have one a car length behind you going 80 MPH if you don’t get out of the passing lane fast enough. It’s constantly stressful for everyone.

Secondly, it was a huge mistake not to bring my Garmin GPS unit loaded for Italy. Instead I had to use the iPhone, which isn’t nearly as good as the Garmin. Had to hold the phone in left hand so I could shift with right (stick shift). Even tho not as good as the Garmin, it saved my ass continually. I got into congested confusing areas in Sicily repeatedly and it (eventually) guided me out.

Third, the Autostrada has toll booths that are stressful and confusing. You might have 3 cars impatiently waiting behind you while you fumble to pay. Also strange, they have no signs telling you how far it is to cities.

And fourth, there are road tunnels. Italians don’t go over the hills, they bore through them. Must have gone through 50 tunnels on the way to Sicily. A lot of them aren’t well lit, so you are a bit blinded doing in, and a lot of them are curvy and everyone is going 80.

I had a really hard time in Sicily. I must have chosen the wrong area, going south from Messina to Siracusa, very crowded, practically no access to swimming spots … I know Sicily is wonderful, I just did it the wrong way.

Left Sicily last Saturday, ferried across the short stretch of water to the mainland, and drove 14 hours until I finally found a hotel south of Rome. And you know what, I just can’t do that at my age.

By the time I got to Rome, I was flatlining and spent most of three days resting, as well as totally stressing about getting out of Italy to my flight home from London. I missed out going to cool places (and visiting friends) in one of the greatest cities in the world.


It was a fabulous trip until I got behind the wheel of a car. Dumbass!

NOW, speaking of the flight home:

Terrified in Rome — The Utter Insanity of Travel 2021

I can’t describe how difficult it is to travel due to Covid. (Just before starting to write this, I was talking to a middle-aged British woman, married to an American, who has been stuck in England for 18 months because the US Embassy was shut down.)

Compounding my problem was visiting two countries, the UK and Italy. Every country has different requirements; for example you need a current Covid test before entering the US, whereas England doesn’t require this, but has a “Passenger Locator Form,” which is really difficult to comprehend and fill out, and requires you to schedule a test upon arrival in the UK. I kept trying the fill out the fucking form while I was in Rome, and couldn’t. I was really scared that I was not going to be able to get the documentation to get to the UK. Then what?

I spent HOURS on my laptop, wrestling with the form, and seeking a flight to UK.

I kid you not, I was terrified — that I was caught in a web of digital requirements that I just didn’t t have the technical skills to deal with. I am just not fluid on my iPhone..

I booked a $150 flight on RyanAir, an airline I hate, which was going to go from their hokey Italian airport to a hokey London airport. But after 3 days of persistent flight checking, I found a miraculous $130 British Airways flight from Rome’s main airport to London’s main airport. Whew!

Got to Fiumicino Rome airport 4 hours early and ended up paying a travel agent $170 to fill out the form, (along with bar code). I was really sweating that if I couldn’t get it done; if I couldn’t leave Italy, I’d miss my flight home. Waited in line an hour before I got to travel agent. I was dehydrated, trying to breath deeply…

The airports are just berserk. It’s like going into a science fiction movie. Things were kinda crazy before at airports, but now it’s as if the world has been taken over by a syndicate that is suffocating people with digital bureaucracy. And the airports, by their very nature, amplify everything.

The insanity of the check-in lines. People take this process for granted, but it’s so weird! Every city different restrictions. Both my bags were separated for inspection this morning. Liquids (even small amounts) need to go in plastic bag, a couple of batteries got flagged. Unpack, inspect, repack. wipe down hands for traces of explosive. Pants falling down from no belt. This is living?

Smart phones are the key and used by everyone for everything. I don’t think you could fly today without one. I’d say 75% of the people I saw on the streets of Rome had their phones out and in use. Same in airports.

For example, I had to fill out a long form (only with the help of a good-hearted young attendant) to schedule my test the next day, then schedule an appointment, all documented on my phone. Then the (antigen) results of the Covid test I took at 7:30 this morning (for my 2:15 PM flight) were emailed to my phone a half hour later and I had to show this bar code on my phone before getting boarding pass, along with vaccination certificate. passport, form filled out stating that I did not have the Verifly app with my photos on it, 2 other forms whose subjects I forget.

Screen cap of my iPhone showing some of the Covid stuff

I had real fear that I could be caught in a bureaucratic fix and unable to get out, and am so glad to have my BOARDING TICKET and heading west.

Right now I’m about 2 hours before boarding, having fun venting. I really needed to tell somebody about all this.

If it doesn’t kill you, it’s good for you, right? Well, I seem to be still alive.

So to my friends (and family), when I see you, I won’t have to tell you any of this…

Flight from Heathrow to SFO was a dream. Brand new Boeing 787, a beautiful plane, about 1/5 full, plenty of room to stretch out, good movies (watched Goodfellas again), read more of book Brunelleschi’s Dome, wasn’t bored at all…

Now to get Rolling Homes rolling towards completion…

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

7 Responses to Account of My Last Trip to Europe

  1. Lloyd, I’ve been reading your blog for years. This is the BEST entry you’ve ever written, out of many wonderful entries. It should be printed as an op-ed in the New York Times about why people shouldn’t even think about traveling internationally right now–or driving internationally EVER. Thank you for telling the truth! And I loved seeing your adventures on Instagram. Travel would be so great if we didn’t have to get there.

  2. The stress in these words is so palpable. My favorite line “now it’s as if the world has been taken over by a syndicate that is suffocating people with digital bureaucracy”. Glad you made it home in one piece!

  3. After our last trip to Italy, we resolved never to drive again on the other side of the Atlantic. If you can’t get there by public transportation, we don’t need to go there.

  4. I remember the story of the couple who arrived at Rome Airport, rented a car and set off for Capri, an idyllic island off the coast near Naples. Because they were completely unfamiliar with driving in Italy, they decided to rely on their GPS system to get them there, so they entered “Capri” as the destination and followed its instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, they misspelled “Capri” as “Carpi”, a mid-sized industrial city in Northern Italy. As they neared Carpi, they were expecting to have to go on a ferry to the island and were surprised to find themselves at the city limits. After driving around Carpi for a while, they decided that Capri was not at all as advertised. Their attempts, in halting Italian, to ask the way to the beach were met with bafflement by the local inhabitants. They put this down to their lack of skill in the language. After a few hours, they decided that they did not like Capri very much and went home.

  5. So, summer of ’67, I finally managed to title and plate (in German) what turned out to be a Frankenbike BMW R-26 single. Would run on anything, fuel wise. The Autobahn has 3 lanes and no speed limits (then): left lane (that tiny sparkling light in the rear view mirror was a Porsche or Mercedes flat out flashing its lights at 120+ mph, move right fast); right lane which was slightly slower; far right lane for Wehrmacht and USA tanks, which could go 55 mph. I got passed more than once on the right by a tank going >55. The exhaust was kinda black, too. Guys up top on the turret seemed friendly, like dogs enjoying having their heads out of a moving car window.

    Italian cars have two controls: the horn and the accelerator. In dire settings, use both.

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